That is the question, isn’t it?
As a coach, I am regularly asked my opinion on tracking. After all, there are about a zillion different tracking apps and websites out there, all dedicated to helping hard-working dieters stay on top of their food intake so they can reach their goals.
Today, I wanted to go into the pros and cons of tracking so you can evaluate it as a tool and decide if it’s something you want to include- even if it’s just temporarily- in your keto lifestyle.
The first thing that needs to be said about tracking is that it is a tool that can be incredibly useful in getting a realistic picture of what your actual intake is. Speaking as a coach, one of the first things any one of us are probably going to ask you to do is to track your food. Getting your daily intake down in black and white is incredibly useful in helping us help you to tweak your lifestyle. In fact, most mistakes are only ever really discovered once we get a good look at your daily tracker.
Are you eating enough in general? On keto it’s easy to be full at a pretty low level of food consumption, and we have found that it’s very common for people to overestimate their total energy intake. On the other hand, there’s the “carb creep” problem, wherein you eat a lot of very low carb items which add up over the day, but have mentally discounted them because they’re not substantial in carbs by themselves. This is an incredibly common mistake. Many people also tend to under estimate their daily protein intake as well.
Then there’s the issue of ingredients: what is actually IN your food and is any of it problematic? As I’ve stated, ad infinitum, ingredients matter and if you’re eating a lot of packaged or pre-made goods, it’s highly likely you’re consuming hidden sugars and starches. Unfortunately, if you’re trying to eyeball your food, all of these problems can remain hidden, which may in turn lead to stalls, regain of weight, or a return of symptoms you’d thought were banished forever.
Being able to evaluate your food intake, in depth, can be an invaluable part of figuring out what works for your own body, as well. Do you do better at 50 grams protein or 65? You won’t really know if you don’t know how much you’re eating per day. How about identifying sources of autoimmune flare ups, or other food sensitivities? If you don’t have a log of what you’re eating it’s going to be hard to pinpoint the source and eliminate it.
As you can see, keeping a log can be incredibly useful!
On the other hand, there are quite a few downsides to tracking.
Let’s face it: tracking is a pain. Realistically, no one wants to be tied to an app or a log every day of their lives for all eternity. In fact, one of my own goals for all my clients is to help them learn what keto looks like well enough that they can eventually dump the trackers and eat more intuitively!
Another problem with trackers is that they are inexact. Almost all of them allow manual entries, which is great if you have the package on hand and it’s not available already in their system. But if you’re not paying attention to the values and happen to get a hold of a manual entry wherein someone made a mistake, your own logs can be pretty wildly off. Sometimes values and calculations on recipes can vary by a lot between different trackers. As our own Carrie Brown discussed on a Ketovangelist Kitchen podcast about macros, trying to calculate the macro values for the same recipe with identical ingredients across different macro trackers came up with some pretty wonky- and highly inconsistent- results.
There is also a tendency for a tracker to become a thing of obsession amongst those who may already suffer from anxiety or an eating disorder. We can become so focused on “hitting” those numbers every day that we stress ourselves out and obsess to the point of disorder.
My own opinion on this topic is rather nuanced. I personally have a love-hate relationship with trackers. On my own keto journey, I’ve enjoyed life much more when I wasn’t tied to a tracker and chasing my macros. However, since I began coaching I have been able to recognize them as a very good tool to help me help my clients figure out how to make keto work for them. And, in fact, in my own life I’ve used trackers a lot more recently, as a way to keep my protein in check during my Meat Experiment, and currently to make sure I’m getting enough food in to fuel my greatly increased activity levels.
While I’m unexcited about using it as a long-term thing, I will acknowledge that tracking is something that has been a great help of late, and so I can’t begrudge anyone who is a bit tighter with their tracker than I am. As long as your relationship with your tracker doesn’t become an unhealthy obsession, I would encourage most people to use one to at least spot check from time to time to make sure you’re on the right track. From experience, you may be surprised at what you find!